Increasing Muscle Strength: Could Nitrates Help?

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Are foods high in nitrates, like beet juice, a good option for increasing muscle strength? Image credit: jayk7/Getty Images.
  • A new study reveals that consuming dietary nitrates before exercise can increase the amount of force the quadriceps muscles can produce.
  • Biopsies of study participants revealed that the muscles of people who ingested a nitrate suspension contained more nitrates than the control group. The beneficial action of nitrates in the muscles is not yet clear.
  • Beet juice is high in nitrates, suggesting that drinking it may improve athletic performance without causing problems increasingly associated with nitrates in meats, deli meats, cheese and bacon.

In a new randomized crossover study, researchers show that consuming dietary nitrates improves athletic performance, and they explain why.

The study found that during exercise, participants experienced about a 7% increase in muscle coupleor strength, compared to those who consumed the placebo.

The study comes from researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, as well as researchers from the University of Queensland, Australia, and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

His results appear in the journal Acta Physiologica.

Ten healthy male volunteers signed up to participate in the study. They consumed either a suspension of potassium nitrate, or as a control condition, a liquid containing a placebo of potassium chloride.

The researchers performed muscle biopsies on the participants on four occasions: before ingestion, 1 hour later, 3 hours later, and after the participants performed 60 maximal contractions of knee extensors.

Compared to those who ingested the placebo, people who consumed the nitrate solution had elevated levels of nitrates in their vastus lateralis muscles of the legpart of the quadriceps.

The increase persisted for a few hours after nitrate consumption.

The study also looked at how nitrates can improve performance.

Nitrates are natural chemical compounds that may benefit health, at least in part because they promote the production of nitric oxide that the body needs.

nitric oxide play a role in blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health, production of mitochondria, the so-called powerhouses of the cell, calcium transport, reduction of oxidative stress and repair of skeletal muscle.

Beet juice, or beetroot juice, contains nitrates and can lower blood pressure and improve physical performance, as previous research has suggested. Nitrates are also abundant in celery and lettuce.

Nitrates can break down on contact with saliva to form nitrite. Nitrites are similar compounds, although slightly more active than the more stable nitrates. They also promote nitric oxide.

However, nitrates, when exposed to high heat, can also turn into nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. It is most likely occur with nitrates which suppress bacterial activity in ham, cheese, bacon and processed meats.

“We show for the first time that nitrate levels in muscles before exercise are related to the amount of force the muscles can produce,” said the study’s corresponding author. Dr. Andrew M. Jonesapplied science teacher physiology at the University of Exeter.

The mechanism behind the increase in torque remains to be explained in detail. Dr. Jones speculated that “[t]Muscle appears to use nitrate to improve its ability to contract, we believe by converting nitrate to nitric oxide which in turn has effects on the contractile apparatus.

Dr. Paul Arcieroa professor in the Department of Human Physiological Sciences at Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, NY, who was not involved in the study, has a different theory.

According to him, “[i]it is dietary nitratenot nitrous oxide which shows these enhanced effects on muscle performance.

Dietary nitrate, according to Dr. Arciero, “specifically targets fast-twitch muscle fibers, perhaps increasing [the] release of calcium, necessary for muscle contractions and the generation of maximum muscle strength.

This would be useful for athletes who need to accelerate quickly from a starting position, he suggested.

This increase in nitrates would be particularly beneficial during high-level sports efforts and can improve muscle performance in the elderly or those whose movements are affected by disease.

Dr. Jones noted that changes in how one builds muscle after consuming nitrates remain unexplored at this time. “But,” he said, “if you can produce more force (lift more weight) and do it repeatedly during a training program, it’s possible there are hypertrophic effects. “

Although the current study did not investigate the benefits of beet juice, which is high in nitrates, Dr Arciero did previously studied its value in improving physical performance.

“Most scientific findings suggest that consuming dietary nitrate and, in many cases, beetroot juice 60 to 90 minutes before exercise, are effective nutritional strategies for improving exercise performance.”

– Dr. Paul Arciero

Specifically, he reported, beet juice can promote continued endurance during exercise, and the results of the current study now add that it also supports the production of high-intensity muscle force.

“This study clearly provides compelling new evidence to consider consuming dietary nitrate to improve peak torque production, especially of the quadriceps muscles,” Dr. Arciero said.

He also noted a range of well-researched proven methods nutrition strategies to increase the production of power and muscle strength. These include the consumption of creatine monohydrate, which Dr. Arciero also writing.

Dr Jones said he hopes to continue the research with a more gender-balanced set of participants. “Unfortunately, only men volunteered for our study,” he admitted.

He would also like to see investigations into the possible benefits of nitrate intake in older people with declining muscle strength, noting that it may limit their ability to enjoy life and perform activities of daily living.

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